N.I. Public Health Agency & Covid Advertising Costs

The Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland has dished out over £450K on Covid fear-mongering at a time when 25% of children in NI live in poverty. Thanks to a Freedom of Information request I can reveal where most of that spending ends up.

Covid is BIG business. Especially if you’re in the advertising and media industries. Given that the message around Covid has been fear and hysteria – if you’re in a business that can help amplify those messages you could be set to make a lot of money.

In a recent article, I provided the details of a Freedom of Information request that revealed the Northern Ireland Executive spent £1.7m on Covid advertising in the 20/21 financial year. They also hired a private firm to take over their Covid advertising job for a 24 month period at a cost of £2m beginning in April 2021. Obviously planning ahead with the intention of keeping Covid hysteria alive and kicking well into 2023.

At the time of the submission of the Freedom of Information request to the Executive I also submitted a request to the Public Health Agency asking them for a breakdown of their Covid advertising budget and the companies they did business with.

I now have that information which I will present in this article.*

On top of the Executive’s massive £1.7m spend the Public Health Agency added a further £454k to that total. Or to be precise, £453,943.24. A staggering sum in and of itself in a time when 25% of children are living in poverty in Northern Ireland. Given that a similar number of children were living in poverty prior to Covid it’s safe to say that had the virus not happened, those kids would still be living in poverty. What this tells us is that had child poverty really been an issue the Executive wanted to address, they could have done so quite easily given, as Covid has revealed, there are lots and lots of secret money trees that we were told didn’t exist!

PHA Covid Advertising Costs

My first query to the PHA was related to costs in advertising for the vaccination program. This figure is obviously lower given the short period of time of the vaccine rollout.

Query 1: Advertising spend by PHA on COVID-19 vaccination by media outlet during financial year 2020/21. 

My second query was more specific on the costs of advertising Covid fear and a breakdown of that expenditure.

One can understand the need for a Public Health Agency to inform the public of good health practices and guidance and that would obviously include some TV and Radio broadcasts but instead what we ended up with was a near constant onslaught of fear-porn on every media outlet available to us. It is justifiable to ask that if Covid was as frightening and dangerous as the government claimed, then why did the people of Northern Ireland require over £2m to be spent reminding them of the dangers? Is living through a pandemic not supposed to be self-evident?

And given the large sums spent on this advertising it is also appropriate to ask if these media platforms have not themselves become extensions of the state propaganda campaign and if these monies have not in any way influenced their broadcasting narrative?

PHA Withholds Data

*The Public Health Agency decided to withhold the amounts of money it paid to the “Press” category and instead just provided me with an overall total. They did this whilst seeking refuge behind “Section 43(2) of the FOI Act”.

We consider that the providers in question would not willingly release such information into the public domain as releasing the information would prejudice their commercial interests, with potential to compromise their capacity to provide the most economically efficient service.

PHA 18th June 2021

I responded to this argument with the following:

In presenting this argument you are by extension suggesting that the outlets whose financial commitments to the Agency you did reveal to me would be willing to release such information into the public domain. Based upon what evidence is the Agency making this assumption?

Philip Watson to PHA 27th June 2021

They continued…

Please note that PHA considers that some of the information requested in Q1 (press) to be exempt from disclosure, pursuant to section 43(2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, which exempts information if its disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice the commercial interest of any person including the Public Authority holding it.

PHA 18th June 2021

To which I responded,

The PHA’s justification for withholding this information is that it would “prejudice the Commercial Interests of both the Public Health Agency and the contractor[s]..” whilst going on to provide a breakdown of the money paid to various other media platforms. Surely if the position of the PHA is to protect the interests of “contractors” they wouldn’t have cherry-picked which contractors they wished to protect?

You can read their covering letter to me here and their Appendices relating to that letter here.

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